Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Eric Kurlander's "Hitler’s Monsters"

Eric Kurlander is professor of history at Stetson University. His books include The Price of Exclusion: Ethnicity, National Identity, and the Decline of German Liberalism, 1989–1933 and Living With Hitler: Liberal Democrats in the Third Reich, 1933-1945.

Kurlander applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hitler's Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Hitler’s Monsters happens to be the first page of "Chapter Four: The Third Reich’s War on the Occult. Anti-Occultism, Hitler’s Magicians’ Controversy, and the Hess Action." Chapter Four, which is pivotal, explores the Nazis’ contradictory policies and attitudes toward the occult in the years immediately after Hitler’s seizure of power. It opens with three epigraphs. The first, from Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, urges Germans (and Nazis) not to embrace “unclear mythical concepts” propagated by “German prophets” who, per Hitler in Mein Kampf, “like to clothe themselves in bearskins” and claim to have “created National Socialism some forty years before [the Führer].”

The second epigraph comes from a May 1941 exchange between an official in Alfred Rosenberg Party Education Ministry, charged with policing the occult, and the head of Hitler’s Chancellery, Martin Bormann. Even after the Gestapo moved to combat “the overweening spread of astrology for profit” in 1937, the official complained, Hitler’s Deputy Rudolf Hess, not to mention Heinrich Himmler, had insisted that “‘scientific astrology’ be spared from this measure.” “Thereafter it became increasingly clear,” the official continued, that proponents of Enlightenment faced a “struggle” against this “consolidated group” within the Nazi Party “for the sponsorship of astrology and occultism.”

The third epigraph, an excerpt from a 1960 interview with SS professor Ernst Anrich. Looking back on the Third Reich, Anrich recalled that the “whole background of the ban on astrology” as well as the “partial persistence” of occultism in the 1930s “is interesting not only as an individual case, but speaks to the manifold contradictions within National Socialism which I have often related.”

Which begs the question: Why these contradictions? Why did the Third Reich not move more aggressively to curb occultism? Chapter Four begins to answer this question, a central theme in Hitler’s Monsters, by looking at Nazi efforts to police the occult during the first four years of the Third Reich. It then turns to the regime’s haphazard efforts to promote “enlightenment” after 1937, culminating in what I call Hitler’s Magician’s Controversy. This alternately absurd and amusing controversy regarding the legality of “magic” culminated in February 1941, when Hitler and the Gestapo decided to side with professional magicians against debunkers out to undermine popular belief in occultism. The chapter concludes with an analysis of the subsequent 1941 “Hess Action” against the occult–– a June response to Hess’s embarrassing flight to Scotland in May of that year–– which nonetheless ended as quickly as it had begun.

In Chapter Four and throughout later chapters I argue that the Third Reich’s “zigzag course” in policing the occult can be explained by the fact that the Nazis embraced many elements of occult and border scientific thinking. When the regime worked to repress or “coordinate” esoteric groups, it had more to do with controlling and utilizing occult doctrines than eliminating them outright. Like esotericists and border scientists more generally, the Nazis worked carefully to distinguish between commercial and popular occultism, on the one hand, and “scientific” occultism on the other. If Third Reich may have been hostile toward commercial, for-profit, boulevard occultism, “serious” practitioners of “scientific” occultism, Chapter Four concludes, enjoyed remarkable latitude, even extensive sponsorship, by the Third Reich.
Learn more about Hitler's Monsters at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Eric Kurlander's Living with Hitler.

--Marshal Zeringue